The way that systems of a body on life support slowly shut down, the River District Arts building in Sperryville, mostly vacant since June for lack of a buyer, is facing another system loss. Jerome Niessen, owner of the building since September of 2009, has applied to the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority to disconnect all of the sewer hookups for the building, basically shutting it down and rendering it uninhabitable.
At last Thursday’s (Aug. 11) monthly authority meeting, Ken Thompson — speaking on behalf of Niessen, who is now living in South Africa — said, “Jerome wishes to give up all the EDUs at RDA.” In the parlance of the water and sewer authority, one EDU, or equivalent dwelling unit, represents 150 gallons per day of liquid waste. The RDA building requires eight.
Thompson, former owner of the Thornton River Grille and a friend of Niessen’s, asked that the EDUs be discontinued as of July 31. He did not say why Niessen wanted to disconnect from the sewer system.
Members of the authority discussed the ramifications of Niessen’s request. “If the building goes to zero EDUs,” said Alex Sharp, who chairs the authority, “[Niessen] would also have to disconnect the water.” Otherwise, he said, without sewer service, if the bathrooms and kitchen continued to be used, waste could back-up into the building itself. Sharp said he was aware that Niessen had been letting people use the kitchen.
Attorney Taylor Odom, who serves the water and sewer authority, suggested offering Niessen two options — maintain one EDU and keep the water on or relinquish all EDUs and require Niessen to disconnect the water pump at the well.
Ultimately, the members of the authority voted unanimously to accept Niessen’s application to disconnect from the sewer system, but offered a 10-day grace period for Niessen to reconsider.
Niessen, a former Rappahannock resident, tried to sell the building earlier this year, seeking a deal that would allow the artists with studio or sales space in the building to remain in place. At least two offers to buy the facility fell through, forcing the artists to leave and find new space elsewhere.
Some 18 potters, printmakers, painters and photographers — plus the 22 members of the decades-old nonprofit Middle Street Gallery artists’ cooperative — rented studio and gallery space from RDA itself.
Photographer Gary Anthes, spokesman for the cooperative, said he remains hopeful that the artists will eventually come together again. “Some of us have other venues, some of us do not,” he said in an email. “We have plans to do various miscellaneous shows at other places — such as at local wineries and the State Theatre in Culpeper — until we have new space. When we have new permanent space, we hope by the end of the year, we will come back together as a group. Most of us strongly believe in the gallery, so I’m not too worried about our staying together. Many of the artists have found other space or relocated to home studios. “
The Living Sky Foundation, an educational nonprofit, also rented space in the building. Said Cherl Crews, the organization’s founder, “We are looking for a new location to use as our local office as well as to re-locate the Sperryville ARTist Cooperative, one of our hosted programs.”